NXTChicago’s summer is at the midway point heading into the Fourth of July weekend. With the holiday weekend on the horizon, I thought this would be the perfect time to reflect on the first half of our summer, and the NXTChicago branch of NXTsports. The summer has been nonstop lacrosse; MVP Illinois,Boys Philly ShowcaseCamp for 2016s and 2017s, Trashcan Lacrosse camp at St. Ignatius College Prep, a trip back east for MVP Towson, Trashcan camp at Episcopal Academy with the Philadelphia NXTers, Philly Showcase Camp for 2018s and 2019s and finally concluded with NXTChicago’s final summer Trashcan camp in Naperville (Ill.). It's a hectic schedule, but summer months like this have become status quo here at NXTsports. I also had the opportunity to spend a good chunk of this month alongside NXT co-founder Peter Lawrence.
Coach Lawrence traveled out to the Midwest for both MVP Illinois and Trashcan camp in Naperville. As the founder of Trashcan Lacrosse, there's no better teacher to impart wisdom to campers than Coach Law. His coaching methods are tried and true and show what it really means to Play Fast. After the last day of camp, I sat down with Coach Law to pick his brain more of the history of NXT, and what similarities he sees between the origins of the Philadelphia office, and the budding Chicago branch.
“One of the biggest differentiators that NXT prides itself on is teaching," Lawrence said. "Everyone likes to say they love the run-and-gun style of lacrosse, but a lot more goes into playing fast than people realize. To play fast, you first have to talk fast, move fast, and think fast. When you are truly playing fast, there are only two positions: goalie and everyone else. In the game of lacrosse, all players must be able to transition from offense to defense and communicate effectively witj their teammates. To do that, you must train your mind and body to play fast."
Coach Lawrence is known for teaching in 3s. He explained that this is a tactic he has picked up throughout his coaching career. “Anything more can be overwhelming for players. Anything less can be a bit underwhelming."
With this in mind, Coach Law emphasized the three Ss of transition lacrosse: Score, Skip, Single. This is a constant theme in Trashcan camp and the game of lacrosse. Every time a player gets a touch, he needs to go through this checklist: is it a shot, a skip pass, or the single easy pass in his face that leads to success? To truly play fast, players need this in their arsenal.
Coach Law also noticed several similarities between NXT's offices in Philadelphia and Chicago.
“The greatest parallel that I’ve found is the personnel involved in both regions. When we started off, we had the likes of Marty Kupprion, Brett Manney, and of course Andy Hayes," Lawrence said. "Our coaches are passionate and that resonates with players and parents alike. I was really impressed to see all of the coaches covered in sweat at the end of NXTChicago’s club practice. From Jeff Pfeffer, to Ryan Ambler: it is not just the full time guys like Drew Haig and Packy Dollard that make us successful. All of the coaches have bought into playing fast and refuse to simply go through the motions. It isn’t easy to do a full day camp, and then club practice a night. Like I always say though, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it."
It is always a special treat for the NXT families when a Division I coach is in town to join us at camp and club practice. Coach Lawrence finished his trip with a Q&A sessions with all of our club families after practice. After answering recruiting questions, what it is like to be a Division I coach, and his playing background, Coach Lawrence had some praise to hand out to our players as well.
“The lacrosse culture is different than other sports, and it is evident here as well as anywhere else I’ve been," Lawrence said. "It starts with respect for the game. Coaching is a two-way street. When you have respectful kids that want to learn, it makes it easier for our coaches to be excited, jump into drills, and end practice as drenched in sweat as any of the players. Hard work is not unique to the lacrosse world or NXT. However, it is a staple of our company, and we work hard to win the day, every day. There is a reason our Philadelphia office is located in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, less than a mile from Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center, and our Chicago office is a block from Wrigley Field in Lakeview. We are passionate and professional sports enthusiasts. Experiencing NXTChicago for a couple of weeks this summer first-hand reminded me of the early days of NXT in Philadelphia, and I see all of the ingredients for success”.
NXTChicago’s high school team left the plains of the Midwest and traveled to Towson for the weekend to play at MVP Towson. MVP Towson is an elite high school tournament featuring some of the best teams on the East Coast, offering an exceptional recruiting opportunity at Towson's beautiful Division I facilities. The Chicago kids left for Baltimore on Friday morning and after many took a train, a plane and than a bus to arrive at Towson, they were ready to play Friday night against a talented Annapolis Hawks team.
Over the course of the weekend, the Chicago team participated in five games against top-tier talent and had a blast playing a fast-paced style of lacrosse. MVP Towson provided a top-notch experience to teams traveling as the team stayed on the same floor in the dorms. The common room was an excellent place to host team meetings and a place for the guys to hang out and eat meals together as well as playing rousing card games through out the weekend.
The tournament came to a close on Sunday afternoon with the 2018 players heading back to Chicago. It was a long weekend for the pups in the Chicago club, but one that they will find very beneficial for them moving forward in their young lacrosse careers. This group headed back to practice on Tuesday night where they looked to refine their game and tweak a few offensive concepts.
The conclusion of MVP Towson was just the start of this trip back east for the 2017 players. All of our 2017 players traveled back to Philadelphia with NXT Lacrosse Club families hosting these players. This group of players has a full week. Monday started at Trashcan Camp before they joined the Philadelphia teams for practice on Monday night. After practice, the boys headed to NXT 2018Danny Taylor's (Malvern Prep) house for a team meal with other Philly players.
The players entered full tourist mode, making college visits to Eastern University, Cabrini College, University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University to get a better feel for what college life in Philadelphia entails. After these college visits came to a conclusion, it was time to break out the camera before visiting the Liberty Bell, “Rocky’s Steps” and take in their first cheesesteak.
The end of the week begins today as players check into the Boys Philly ShowcaseCamp at Saint Joseph's University. This group will become better educated not just on the lacrosse field, but also off of it as they learn about the college recruitment process, NCAA rules, strength training, and nutrition. Campers get to experience a couple days in the life of a college lacrosse player. Showcase camp runs from today to Friday and after check out, the boys will head to the airport and arrive back home on Friday evening, completing NXTChicago’s first trip back east.
NXTChicago’s U15 team continued to make strides this past weekend at Lax Geneva.
The U15 team headed up to Delevan (Wisc.) to battle some great Midwest competition. Although they started off the tournament with a hard-fought loss, the team came together and put on a nice run, before falling in the Championship game on Sunday, and finishing 3-2 overall on the weekend.
Standout defensemen David Bendis continues to draw the opposing team’s top attackmen. Bendis’s game is highlighted by his physicality and strength, with the ability to push attackmen off their dodging line, and force them away from scoring opportunities.
The defense is also anchored by two goalies that are playing great. Joey Cornell and Nick Deckard split time this weekend, and were both solid throughout the tournament.
“We play a high intensity, high pressure defense, and certainly need solid goal tending." U15 defensive coordinator Drew Haigsaid. "When you continue to press out defensively, you run the risk of giving up some possible breaks for the other team’s offense. We are confident in both of our goalies and love that we have the ability to be active defensively, without worrying about allowing easy goals”.
Ian Venard and Eddie McDonald continue to be a presence in the midfield. Although not oversized, the pair pushes the tempo and had great offensive output this weekend. Coach Jeff Pfefferacknowledged this fact, explaining, “Ian and Eddie on the same midfield line is a matchup problem for other teams. They are both quick, active, and can pull the trigger as soon as their hands are free”. The tandem was responsible for a lot of the offensive production in the semifinal game.
Although the tournament didn't end with the perfect ending, the NXTChicago U15 squad continues their upward trajectory. With the weekend off, the Chicago group will have four more practices under their belts before they head to Pipe City on July 11th.
NXTChicago's U15 team has a win to its name after its first event of the summer.
Led by a tenacious defense anchored by goalie Joey Cornell and defensemen Nick Lowe, David Bendis and Josh Lenczewski, NXTChicago collected a win over Third Coast as part of a 1-3 weekend at Denver Shootout that jumpstarted its summer schedule. The team, comprised entirely of players in the 2019 graduation year, fell to 3d Colorado, ELC Team 21 and Colorado Wild.
"This was an awesome learning experience for our boys," coach Colin Ambler said. "They got to play some competitive lacrosse and at the same time, they got to see what lacrosse at a little bit of a higher level looks like. We're still a very young team that is just starting to come together and to be exposed to this caliber of lacrosse is huge for our boys. Our defense led the way as they improved tremendously with their communication, off-ball approach, on-ball positioning and ground ball tenacity."
"Those were our offensive leaders, but Ian Venard and Sam Madura also showed a lot of hustle and grit between the lines and were tough on ground balls," Ambler said. "We're excited to continue our summer this weekend at Lax Geneva."
One year has made all the difference in the world for NXTChicago.
Take it back to this time last year and remember that there were only two part-time workers with one club team that only attended local events and NXTChicago Regional Director Kyle McGuire had taken over the reins of St. Ignatius College Prep's freshman team.
Take a look at it now and the old NXTChicago is completely unrecognizable. McGuire graduated to becoming St. Ignatius' head varsity coach, leading the Wolfpack to a 15-4 record and a berth in the state tournament. That's just the start, though. NXTChicago added educational programming in Cradle Lacrosse and Trashcan Lacrosse, has four full-time coaches and a summer intern, 18 coaches in the Chicagoland area and oh, the Chicago NXT Lacrosse Club teams are growing at an incredible rate.
Tryouts are being held tonight for NXTChicago's summer teams at The Dome at the Ball Park in Des Plaines. The U15 team, coached by Regional Director of Trashcan Lacrosse Drew Haig, NXT CTO Colin Ambler and Jeff Pfeffer, has 21 players who have already cemented their spots with an additional 12 players trying out for three remaining spots. Haig played for NXT co-founder Peter Lawrence at Hartford, Ambler is one of Drexel's all-time leading scorers and Pfeffer also played at Drexel. The team kicks off its summer at the 3d Shootout in Denver this weekend.
"We're so excited to be able to play in a great event like the Denver Shootout as our boys get to see some of the best teams in the country," Haig said. "As far as tryouts go, we're extremely fortunate to be in a great situation where more and more kids are interested in what NXT has to offer in the Midwest. We can't wait to see who's going to stand out to be able to grab those final spots."
The high school team, coached by McGuire (Lynchburg),Jim Speth (LeMoyne) and Princeton All-Ivy League attackman Ryan Ambler boasts 24 players. It hits the road this weekend and travels to the University of Illinois for MVP Illinois, a first-year recruiting event in Champaign.
"MVP's history speaks for itself, so bringing a tournament with that reputation out to the Midwest is a great opportunity for our players," McGuire said. "Our guys are going to have a chance to show college coaches what they're about, but most importantly, it gives them a chance to continue to work on their game and improve. That's really the biggest thing we're looking for this summer."
Finally, NXTChicago's U11 team gets underway at NXT's Rock River Cup in Rockford (Ill.) this weekend. The team features 17 players and is coached by Regional Director, Cradle Lacrosse Chicago & Midwest Events Operations Garrett "Packy" Dollard, another Hartford alumnus. He's joined by Ben Sataloff (St. Mary's).
"Rock River Cup has quickly emerged as the best youth event in the Midwest and because of that, we know that our team is going to have a great time and they'll be able to learn a lot," Dollard said. "We're looking forward to facing off against great teams and this will be a great summer of growth for the team."
Trashcan Lacrosse is hosting camps at St. Ignatius and Naperville this summer as NXT continues to grow its educational programming. Chicago has already been swept up into the Play Fast movement and there's little doubt that the best instructional program in the country is going to continue to grow in the Windy City. The Cradle Life has also taken over Chicago with another Cradle camp this summer at St. Ignatius.
It's safe to say that NXTChicago's growing crew will be just a little bit busy this summer and that's What's NXT.